Monday, January 14, 2013

Truths and Rights

I normally say that the pangrammatical supplement of "truth" is "justice". This has much to recommend it, but also one clear defect that I've noted before: there are "truths" in the world, but not corresponding "justices".

I just discovered a way to resolve this problem that might be more elegant than I previously suggested. Can we not distinguish simply between "truth" and "rightness" (i.e., justice). Our beliefs about the world are true and false, while our desires about history are right and wrong.

This also lets us posit truths and rights, and I mean "rights" in the ordinary sense. A right is just an individual just-ness. Our experience, then, is subtended by truths and rights.

Now, the truths are known to us or not. While the rights are mastered by us or not.

(Note that social progress since, say, the Enlightenment has consisted in the increasing mastery of the rights that, we increasingly recognized, we already had.)

One big issue is whether all grounding of actions depends on rights. Are some "abilities" not grounded in "skills"? This is where moral and practical "rightness" intersect. There are right and wrong ways to do things, but there is no simple way to distinguish the social license we have for action from physical ability we have to do it.

We have a "right" to do something, or not. We are able to do it or not.

"You're doing it wrong!"
"What you did was wrong!"

Both of these expressions depend on the experience of an action having "rightness". When we propose "inalienable human rights" or suchlike, are we not just saying that, just as our experience gives us access to truths, it affords us rights.

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